10 Cost-Effective Ways to Promote Your Small Business
How to Promote Without Emptying the Account
Everywhere you look these days, you're bombarded with business advice. Newspapers, internet, and television all offer a number of ways to promote your business and compel clients to beat your door down. The trouble is, most of this great advice is aimed at larger businesses. What if your company is a start up, and you're the sole employee? Businesses of this size seldom have a huge operating budget OR a huge advertising budget.
As a small (local) business owner, I've faced this exact same dilemma. Your advertising budget is limited, yet you need to get the word out about your product or service. Without an aggressive promotional campaign, you know that your business will stagnate and die. So what are your options?
Here are a few cost-effective ways to advertise your small business:
1) Promotional items.
Ever call on a potential client, explain the service or product that you offer, and load them up with business cards and brochures? Congratulations...you just wasted part of your advertising budget. The fact is, a large percentage of those fancy business cards and brochures end up in the trash the minute you leave. They're low-end advertising, but they still cost money, and brochures can be quite pricey.
Instead, offer your clients something that they'll think twice about throwing away: a coffee mug with your logo, business card magnets, a hat with the company name, or a mouse pad with your company contact information. Yes, they cost more, but your objective is to remind your client of your business as often as possible. Your coffee mug will end up as the first thing they look at in the morning, and the mouse pad will be RIGHT THERE as they turn on their computer.
2) A website (no brainer)
In this day and age, would you do business with a company that doesn't maintain a website? I wouldn't. As an advertising venue, a company website is priceless. For a few dollars a year, your business is LIVE on the web. Your clients can look you up anytime, day or night, to check out what you have to offer. There are no "techie" skills needed; most web domain registrars and hosting outfits offer easy-to-use site building tools and control panels. You can build a simple website YOURSELF in a few hours. Alternately, you can have a professional build your website if your budget allows. There is no excuse for not maintaining a web presence...it's a must.
3) Logo and Slogan "Branding"
Larger businesses with larger advertising budgets are notorious for huge campaigns, and one thing that they concentrate on is their logo and slogan. Can you think about Pepsi-Cola without seeing their logo? Or think about a GE appliance without being reminded that GE "brings good things to life"?
That should be your goal...to brand your business with an unforgettable logo and slogan, even if it's a local business. Plaster them everywhere. Your logo and slogan should be on your business cards, coffee mugs, website, mouse pads, and anywhere else you can put it. And for God's sake, DON'T CHANGE IT! It is your business identity, and if it changes, it will arouse suspicion in your clientele. They'll wonder if your product or service has changed in some way, and that's the last thing you want. You want to give your business the aura of unchanging excellence and dependability.
When choosing a slogan, don't use a trite, common expression. A play on words (pun) is desirable here so that it's memorable.
For instance, a radiator shop could have a humdrum slogan like "Reliable Radiator Repairs Anytime".
Or, you could make it memorable.
"The Best Place in Town to Take a Leak".
As for your company logo, here's where you want to invest a few of your advertising dollars. There are a number of places on the web to buy a logo, but be aware that your logo is NOT exclusive if you buy a logo this way. The logo can be sold to any number of buyers, so you may end up with a "logo-clone" in the same area that you're doing business. This actually happened to me...I bought a logo, altered the colors, and found out later that my competitor had purchased the exact same business logo. A better option is to have a logo custom-designed for you. That way, your business won't be confused with any other business.
My business is a local one- a home inspection business. And the competition is fierce. Every retired contractor for 1000 miles has aspirations of running a home inspection business, apparently. So how do I set myself apart from all this competition?
The same way that the BIG businesses do... give away free samples! In my line of work, I visit realtors and tell them that I'll give THEIR clients a freebie...a free water test, free radon test, free lead paint test, etc. The objective is to expose people to your product or service so that your business name can be passed around, and of course, your freebies should be of exemplary quality. No shortcuts here. Your client's first impression of your business is the most important one! Think about this...if you used a newspaper coupon for a free carpet cleaning, and they did a poor job, would you ever call them again for a PAID cleaning? Heck no. Your freebies should reflect the quality of service (or product quality) that you'll deliver every time, without fail.
Huh? Flyers? But they're so 1985.
I recently read an article about a guy who rolled the branding and slogan into one simple flyer. Everywhere you look in the New York City area, you'll see flyers posted with his picture and a one-line message: Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar. Dan has become something of a local celebrity, and all because of his flyer campaign. Mention guitar lessons in the greater NYC area, and you can't help but envision his flyers, which are posted anywhere and everywhere. Dan spends many hours trekking around town to post his flyers....in bars, nightclubs, on telephone poles, and anyplace that will hold a staple. And it's paid off. He's a busy man, which is what all small businesses aspire to achieve. Don't overlook a flyer campaign. All you need is your slogan and a printer, and your business will be on the tongue of everyone in YOUR town.
6) Charities and Events
The best advice I can give for a local business is to contribute to those in your community. It will come back to you ten-fold. If there is a fundraiser going on in your area, then BE THERE. Be sure that any monetary contributions are made in the name of your business. Give generously to those around you, and they'll remember your contribution. Word gets around that "Joe Schmoe, who runs the local dry cleaners, gave $100 to the church fund". Not only will you get a great sense of satisfaction knowing that you helped those who support you, you'll get that support back from the locals and become known as a person who cares for those around him. Your name will become synonymous with your business name...just be sure that BOTH project your professional identity.
7) Social Networking
Ah yes...Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, and the like. I admit, I was guilty of social network bashing when they first surfaced. I mean...c'mon...what could Twitter be good for? People were posting their breakfast menu on there! How lame.
Then, like millions of others, I realized it's value. These services are used to inform others of your products and services. Use them to post links to your website or webpages, present your business profile, or just to banter. And don't be shy...no matter what your business niche is, there are those who share your interests and enthusiasm. Services like www.Twellow.com can connect you with local people who are looking for YOUR product or service. Your postings should be informative and helpful...don't push your business too much, or you'll look like a one-way street. Interact with your followers as you would your family by following threads of conversation that are related to your business niche. As you connect with others in your business community, you'll realize that you can all help one another. For instance, as a home inspector, I inspect hundreds of basements every year. I was contacted by a basement waterproofing company, we exchanged website links on our sites, and we've both been able to benefit from it. See the value now?
8) Radio Spots
People turn on the radio at all times of the day and night. You can probably recite 3 or 4 radio jingles that are associated with local businesses. So, who says YOURS can't be among them?
Radio stations will often package a series of spots in a certain time slot....say 5 AM-12AM. They'll offer to run your ad "x" number of times during that time slot for a certain price. Think about your particular business now. If you run a local coffee shop, you might want to run your ads in the early morning, for example. If you run a dinner-oriented restaurant, late afternoon might be a better time to run your advertisements. The objective is to get your radio spot on the air at a time when your particular (potential) clientele might be thinking about something related to your business, whether it be breakfast, dinner, dancing or mowing the lawn.
Some stations can provide professional "readings" to enhance your ads (hey...not everyone sounds like a million bucks on the radio!). This is your chance to brand your business with a slogan or jingle...don't discount the power of radio!
9) TV ads
No way. They cost THOUSANDS!
Not if you know where to look, and you choose the right station and time slot.
Not many know this, but you can run a Google TV ad for a few hundred bucks. Go to http://www.google.com/adwords/tvads/ and check it out. Anyone with a camera can put their smiling mug in front of millions of local viewers. Imagine watching Mike Rowe do a "Dirty Job" some night, and then see your neighbor pop onto your screen to plug his pest control business. See the impact? Nothing says success and professionalism to your potential clientele like seeing your business on their TV. You can pick your station (i.e. SpikeTV, History Channel, Food Network) and your target audience. Very powerful for a local business...go for it!
10) DELIVER WHAT YOU PROMISE
All of these ideas for promotion are null and void if you deliver a shabby product or an inferior service. Nothing you do can overcome a bad reputation. PERIOD. That's why it's so important to commit yourself to delivering the best service, or product, that you can. Sacrifices are mandatory in the business world. You may not always get enough sleep, and you may not always make a pile of money each time you come through on your promises. Your clients don't care if you're well-rested or well-off...they've paid you to take care of a particular problem or supply a particular item. And it better be perfect. Word-of-mouth can make you or break you as a small local business.
Years ago, as a student in home inspection school, I asked my instructor what type of advertising delivered the best return for the money.
"A reputation for doing your job well", he answered.